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Posted at: Feb 27, 2017, 12:24 AM; last updated: Feb 27, 2017, 12:24 AM (IST)

The martyr-soldier from Kashmir

Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
The same people who mourned a militant’s death also turned up for the soldier’s funeral. This shows a degree of sensitivity for people who know Kashmir’s social landscape though many will dismiss this as sentimental nonsense. But in the end, it’s all in the mind.
The martyr-soldier from Kashmir
The noticeable respect to the dead soldier means there is no dead end if primacy is given to dialogue, in reaching out
The martyrdom of the Indian Army soldier from Kashmir, Lance Naik Ghulam Mohiuddin Rather, in an encounter with terrorists in Shupiyan, South Kashmir on Feb 23 is as tragic as the fate of any Indian Army warrior who made the ultimate sacrifice in the 28-year proxy conflict in J&K. 

It draws attention because of the large turnout at his burial. The same people who turn out to mourn a local militant also came to mourn an Indian patriot. The dichotomy cannot be ignored and there is a much deeper message for those who closely observe the social dynamics of conflict, especially the one in J&K. There is a degree of sensitivity here evident to those who know Kashmir’s social landscape. Yet, many on both sides of the tragic divide will dismiss these observations; the Kashmiris out of a sense of wrath and frustration and the less informed elsewhere as sentimental nonsense not to be applied to Kashmiris.  

Lance Naik Rather was one of the thousands who must have turned up at one of those recruiting rallies in the Valley a few years ago that were extremely popular. He would have undergone his mandatory 36 weeks basic training at the JAK LI Regimental Centre at Rangreth. He would have mixed with young recruits from all over J&K; Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and even Buddhists from Ladakh. There would have been officers from any part of India who would have supervised his training. On Sundays he would have attended the function at the Mandir, Masjid and Gurudwara (of MMG fame) praying together with his comrades. He would have returned home on leave with money in his pockets, a little leaner, with short hair and a swagger which goes with the long hours spent at the drill square. He would have been vulnerable while unarmed, roaming the streets of Marhama and Bijbehara, not the safest of streets. It is here that in 2004, the Hizbul Mujahideen’s (HM) longest surviving Division Commander Shabir Baduri was gunned down. Probably while on leave, Rather would meet a few local militants, some he would probably have known in his earlier life. They would probably ignore each other or perhaps just exchange a smile. Everyone in the village knew his affiliation but none informed on him and none threatened him. That is a phenomenon each Indian Army soldier hailing from Kashmir faces all the time when on leave. There have been tragic killings of unarmed soldiers but the figures are miniscule compared to the volume of expected antipathy against Indian Forces.

Rather would have served with 4 JAK LI, his parent unit, all over India. His mind would have absorbed the social landscape of India. He would have found problems in some of those villages very similar to the ones in his village. He would have found migrant labour constructing Army buildings and found how much better off most of his own people were. People who saw his Muslim name or became aware of his Kashmiri identity would never give a second look. Its then he would have probably realised that it is all in the mind. People all over India and indeed all over the world have the same problems especially those rooted in rural poverty. 

Posted to Kashmir on attachment he would have been a regular participant in operations, dismayed at the way things were progressing. However, his sense of loyalty and larger exposure would have revealed to him the futility of violent extremism. Tral, from where Burhan Wani hailed, has given many terrorists. But the same township has given many more young men to the JAK LI. None can find fault with these hardy men, in their sense of duty, loyalty and character. In high altitude areas their performance does outmatch many others. 

Reflecting on the tragedy of the martyrdom of Lance Naik Rather, one is left regretting as to why the people of J&K have been subjected to this. The tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits equally moves me each time I meet them in large numbers in Jammu; the eyes of the mothers and the elders say it all. Why must these tragedies persist in modern India if there are enough of us who care to understand that the problems lie in the minds? The same young people who throw stones are many a time willing to sit and listen if we ask them to. We reasoned, agreed to disagree, had tea and samosas together, took many selfies and gave many explanations about the ways of joining the Army. For those questions on careers which could not be answered I directed them to approach the Youth Guidance Nodes. 

There is no other way to resolving the problems relating to the negative passions prevalent in J&K. Replicate everything we do in the Jammu division to disallow any sense of injustice. Let people of Jammu speak in Kashmir and those of Kashmir at Jammu’s large auditoriums. Speaking, accepting critique without emotions and just meeting people is the key. It takes away much of the venom.

I wish and hope Lance Naik Ghulam  Mohiuddin Rather’s tragic martyrdom, the turnout in thousands at his burial and the noticeable respect accorded to the Tricolor at the event, urges those in whose hands dialogue between and with the people lies, to rise and be counted. It takes no courage to reach out; just a little feeling in the heart for the millions affected by unnecessary conflict.

The writer, a former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now a Fellow with the Delhi Policy Group.

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